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How to Turn Photos Into Coloring Pages for Children: a GIMP Tutorial

A Coloring Book: Starring You!

Creating a coloring book with a specific child as the main character is a wonderful way to brighten any five year old's day. Using the free photo editing software known as The GIMP, anyone can create designer coloring pages to surprise the youngest members of the family. These coloring pages can be bound into a book for a gift, or for use as an experience book (a language building method for children with various hearing or language difficulties).

Color a Memory

Image after the sobel effect has been applied, but before the layers have been divided.

Image after the sobel effect has been applied, but before the layers have been divided.

Step 1: Create a Duplicate Layer: Use Edge Detect

  1. Go to FILE and OPEN the selected image.
  2. Go to COLORS and DESATURATE the image (the method doesn't matter: choose lightness, luminosity, or average).
  3. Go to WINDOWS and select DOCKABLE DIALOGS. From the drop-down window, select LAYERS.
  4. A new layers window will open up. Click on the overlapping photo icon in the layers window to DUPLICATE LAYER. Alternately, go to the LAYERS tab and select DUPLICATE LAYER.
  5. Select the new, duplicate layer.
  6. Go to FILTERS, then select EDGE-DETECT. From the drop down window, select EDGE.
  7. A pop-up window will appear. Verify the chosen algorithm is SOBEL (this should be the default) and then select BLACK among the three options (smear and wrap are the other options).
The layers have been divided, but the image is too light. Apply the edge detect/sobel effect one more time for a bolder image.

The layers have been divided, but the image is too light. Apply the edge detect/sobel effect one more time for a bolder image.

Step 2: Set Layers to Divide and Darken Image Lines

  1. Go to the LAYER WINDOW and change the mode from "normal" to DIVIDE.
  2. The photo will now appear as a black-and-white line drawing. If the drawing is too light, you will need to apply the Edge Detect/Sobel effect again.

Increase the Detail and Make the Coloring Page Bolder

  1. Ensure the duplicate layer is still highlighted. Go to FILTERS and select EDGE DETECT and EDGE. From the pop-up window, select SOBEL and BLACK as the options.
  2. Repeat Step 1 until the coloring page has a detailed, finished look.
  3. Go to FILE and SAVE the image with an identifying file name.

The Many Uses of Personalized Coloring Pages

Print the coloring pages and use them for gifts, classroom lesson plans, or unique wall art. If printed onto an iron-on transfer, the image can be printed onto T-shirts. Be creative, and inspire a budding young artist to break out the crayons and color a very unique picture!

Questions & Answers

Question: Will this work with all computers or is this an app?

Answer: GIMP is a photo editing software available for all computer types. I do not believe they have an app for use with a phone. It is similar to PhotoShop.


Luke on July 25, 2020:

Just came across this as I'm looking at making fathers day cards for kids on my website to give away for free.

Your tips worked perfectly! It worked on Gimp 2.10.14

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on November 25, 2017:

Hi Kathy, is the background copy selected? If you have the original layer selected you won't see the effect. This is the simplest "fix" I can think of - make sure the background layer is the selected layer in the dockable dialogs. Let me know if this works - if it doesn't, then we can try to figure out what is going on with your system! I also have a windows computer and the method is working for me currently.

kathy runk on November 24, 2017:

I followed the steps and got to the divide but nothing happened my photo did not change to a line drawing but stayed as a black and white. I tried about 8 times starting over each time. I am on a windows computer.

Toni on July 12, 2017:

After reading some of the comments, I wanted to add that I did work on a photo that had a black background. To make it work, I inverted it (under "colors") after I had desaturated it and edge-detected it, and it worked perfectly.

Toni on July 12, 2017:

This was awesome! At first, I thought the instructions were impossibly difficult, but I took it one step at a time, and was able to make a coloring page. To add a layer, though, I right-clicked, because I couldn't find it according to the instructions.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on April 19, 2017:

Hi fishgirlygaming - when you apply the edge filter with the "sobel black," the image will likely turn black for the duplicate layer. This is normal - when you go to the layers dialog, change the "normal" to "divide" and the image should appear white again and as a line drawing.

fishgirlygaming on April 14, 2017:

i don't know if this works beacuse when i tried the other layer of the picture turned all black and i didin't se the black and something went wrong i think?

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on March 06, 2017:

I cannot seem to find a problem, Sue, though I don't have a Mac so I am unable to investigate from that end - I hope you can find a work-around if it is an issue with the Mac computer.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on March 06, 2017:

Hi HL, are you using an Apple computer? I have heard reports of difficulty from others using Macs - I will try to find the source of the problem.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on March 06, 2017:

I am glad it worked for you, Lucia! It is a fun program to use and it is a great way to make a personalized gift!

randy on December 18, 2016:

when i tried to repeat the process on the duplicate i got a white image

Sue on October 22, 2016:

Hi: I followed the instructions exactly and could not get it to work. The picture went from color to black & white and did not change to a coloring page. I'm using a Mac - is there any other steps I'm missing with a Mac?

HL on September 28, 2016:

This doesn't seem to be working for me at all...nothing changes in the picture after the desaturate step. Thanks for your help :)

Lucia on April 22, 2016:

Never used GIMP before although I have it in my PC... Your instructions are very strighforward and I made a beautiful coloring page with a family photo, thank you, now I will be making more for my children to color.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 23, 2015:

I'm glad it helped, PK! I love making coloring pages for kids.

PK on September 18, 2015:

Google found this for me and it was perfect. Many thanks!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 11, 2013:

Hi Adam, I just ran through the sequence again and it is working perfectly as written. When you duplicate the layer, make sure you have selected the duplicated layer in the dockable dialogs window before selecting the sobel filter and dividing the layers. All of the actions should be performed on the duplicated layer and not on the original layer. If you are still having problems, let me know.. you can send me a copy of the photo, if desired (my email contact is on my profile page) and I can try doing it from here to see if there is some other problem going on (if the photo is too dark, it may not detect the edges properly, etc.).

Adam on August 10, 2013:

I get to divide and the picture is still black. I have to invert it to get it to look like anything remotely like your example but even then there are odd dark places.

Am I missing a step somewhere?

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on February 02, 2013:

Thanks, Cross - I make coloring pages for my kids on a regular basis. They love the personalized books! I do want to make a video of this process to make the process a bit clearer to those who aren't familiar with the basics of GIMP.

Cross on February 02, 2013:

Amazing, thanks... crystal clear, I did your steps one by one (even a blink monkey with iron gloves could do it) and got a perfect colorable image.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on November 19, 2012:

Chastity, what portion of the instructions are you having difficulty with? How familiar are you with GIMP and the use of layers?

Chasity on November 19, 2012:

are you kidding me?! your instuctions make absolutely no sense!